Editor's note: The Gazette apologizes for the offense and harm this column caused the community, especially Western's Indigenous community. Please see here. The column’s statements about Pocahontas are problematic: Pocahontas was not a fictional character — she was a real-life person who faced horrible ordeals in her lifetime and to wear a Pocahontas costume, regardless of circumstances, is cultural appropriation. In particular, the Disney movie Pocahontas was produced without Indigenous consultation or consent, perpetuating harmful fallacies about Indigenous peoples and their histories. It is not a story we should celebrate or trivialize through Halloween or otherwise. We encourage the community to contact the editor-in-chief at firstname.lastname@example.org with any concerns or to provide feedback on how the Gazette can do better going forward.
When I was four years old, I dressed up as my favourite Disney character: Pocahontas.
Flash forward to 2017 and costumes like Pocahontas, Jasmine and Moana are criticized by some people as "cultural appropriation." But they shouldn't be. People should be able to dress up as their favourite characters, as long as they aren't changing their skin colour.
Whether we like it or not, our society now has stricter standards about what is appropriate, and Halloween costumes are no exception to that. One Winnipeg elementary school is even holding “tie and scarf day” to avoid students dressing up in potentially offensive costumes.
I agree that we need some sensitivity standards in deciding what to wear for Halloween. Just saying “well, it’s Halloween” or “it’s just for fun” is not a defence. There is a minimum line that shouldn’t be crossed.
For example, when Prince Harry dressed up in a Nazi uniform in 2005 that was clearly not okay and he was justly condemned by, well, pretty much everyone. Last year, when Queen’s University students hosted a party in which they blatantly dressed up as stereotypes of different cultures, they were in the wrong. They were dressing up with the intent of categorizing cultures into distinct and inaccurate stereotypes simply for jokes.
However, I think we need to address the fact that there are many costumes that aren’t objectively offensive.
When I dressed as Pocahontas, I wasn’t trying to offend indigenous peoples. I was dressing up as a fictional character who I admired for her beauty, bravery and beautiful singing voice. Little girls who dress up as Moana, shouldn’t be scolded. Yes, Moana is a Polynesian character, but she’s also a fictional character that children idolize. She sings on boats, sails around with a demigod and is a cartoon.
If you’re dressing up as someone from another culture because they’re a character from a film, television show or book you admire then, for the most part, that should be okay. After all, almost all fictional characters (of all races, ages and religions) are made up stereotypes and inaccurate representation of what real-life people are like.
It's clear costumes like "a geisha" or "an indigenous person" shouldn’t be worn in 2017. But, costumes that are centred around characters who are more than just their race are different stories. Likely, your intent when dressing up as a fictional character is admiration.
If you are offended by a Moana, Jasmine or Pocahontas costume this Halloween, then that’s your prerogative. But well-intentioned people should still be allowed to wear those costumes and enjoy their night. If you’re going to dress up as Donald Trump, I’ll think you’re an ass who doesn’t understand how sexist, racist and offensive he is, but I won’t tell you to change.
So do your research, be conscientious and most of all — have fun dressing up this Halloween.